Heat Exhaustion: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures and is often accompanied by dehydration.

There are two types of heat exhaustion: water depletion and salt depletion. Water depletion heat exhaustion occurs when a person is exposed to high temperatures without sufficient fluid intake. Symptoms often occur over a few hours. The best way to avoid this type of illness is to stay hydrated. Salt depletion heat exhaustion typically develops over several days. Though less common, this type of illness affects people who stay well hydrated but fail to replace normal body salts and minerals. The best way to avoid this type of illness is to drink an electrolyte-rich sports drink when it is very hot and humid.

Signs of heat exhaustion

Though heat exhaustion may be treated without medical intervention, it is important to remember it is a serious medical condition that needs prompt attention, or it may progress to heatstroke. Heat exhaustion symptoms include:

  • Minor confusion
  • Muscle cramping
  • Irrational behavior
  • A rapid, weak pulse
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Mild temperature elevation
  • Skin may feel cool to the touch

Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious medical conditions. Heat exhaustion begins with general muscle weakness and sudden, excessive sweating. A heat stroke occurs when your body’s internal temperature reaches over 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat stroke is a much more serious type of heat exhaustion. In fact, it is a life-threatening illness that can lead to devastating and permanent neurological disabilities. Common symptoms of heatstroke are:

  • Extreme confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Increased bleeding (bruising, vomiting blood, bloody urine)
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Darkened urine
  • Significant core body temperature increase

Heat exhaustion treatment

The most important treatment for heat exhaustion is to focus on lowering the body’s temperature as quickly as possible. Additional treatments for heat exhaustion include:

  • Find a cool place to rest
    Find an air-conditioned building, sit in front of a fan or move to a shady spot while you rest and recover. To help alleviate symptoms of heat exhaustion, rest on your back and elevate your legs over your heart.
  • Drink cool fluids
    Heat exhaustion and dehydration often go hand-in-hand. Rehydrate and cool off with cold water or electrolyte-rich sports drinks. Avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, as they may make symptoms worse.
  • Soak your body in cool water
    If possible; submerge your body in a cool bath, pond or stream to bring your temperature down. You can also try taking a cool shower or covering your skin with towels soaked in cool water.
  • Loosen clothing
    Remove any unnecessary clothing and anything that is heavy or constricting.

If you do not begin to feel better within 1 hour of using these treatments, seek urgent medical treatment.

Confusion and dizziness are common symptoms of heat exhaustion, which can also make you more susceptible to cuts and bruises. Take extra care until you are feeling better or are able to get medical attention.

How to prevent heat exhaustion

It’s important to plan ahead and be prepared, especially if you plan on being outdoors in the heat or exerting yourself for an extended period of time. Here are a few things you can do to help lower your risk of heat exhaustion and dehydration:

  • Drink water
    Hydrate before, during and after outdoor activities to stay hydrated and help keep your body temperature stable. Check your urine to make sure it is light or pale yellow, and when in doubt, drink more water.
  • Wear the right kind of clothes
    Loose-fitting, breathable and comfortable clothes will help you stay cooler, longer.
  • Protect your skin
    Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before participating in any outside activity and reapply as directed on the bottle. Wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin. Both sunburn and sunstroke can lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion.
  • Take it easy
    When the temperature is high, be extra cautious. Excessive physical activity and sweating increase your risk of heat exhaustion.

If you or a loved one is struggling with the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, visit Coastal Urgent Care of Ruston right away for expert medical care and IV fluid hydration. We welcome walk-in appointments 7 days a week, Mon – Fri, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Sat – Sun, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.